Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Canada's expanding African Empire

According to Natural Resources Canada, a federal ministry, there were 155 Canadian companies with cumulative mining assets totalling more than C$31.6bn ($30.5bn) operating in 39 countries in Africa in 2011, the latest available figures. That was up from $26.9bn in 2010.

"Canada is a pretty large outward investor," says Pierre Gratton, president and chief executive of the Mining Association of Canada. "We're one of the larger players on the continent."

Canada's conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper has negotiated investment promotion and protection agreements with a number of countries, including Benin, Cameroon, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia.

In March 2013, Canada's government amalgamated the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), the arm of the government responsible for international aid, into the rebranded Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development. But Stephen Brown, an associate professor of political science at the University of Ottawa, recently criticised the Harper government's move

“It does nothing to improve aid effectiveness," Brown argues. "It's really about rehabilitating the image of Canadian mining companies, distracting public attention away from their practices ... and transforming their image from resource extractors to humanitarian actors." Brown points out that 20 CIDA "countries of focus" have among the top 12 largest reserves of the six most important metals in the world.

Mining Watch Canada, an independent watchdog, cautions that there are very few laws governing the conduct of Canadian companies operating abroad. "In many instances, local governments simply do not have the capacity," Jamie Kneen, a coordinator for MiningWatch says. "There are serious risks for the environment and health of the nearby communities." While the Dodd-Frank legislation in the United States and the European Union's Accounting and Transparency Directives have put pressure on companies to disclose payments made to governments, no such legislation exists in Canada. For now, Canadian oil operations by firms including Canadian Resources and Sunco Energy in West and North Africa have remained largely below the radar.

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